I saw a young woman told to leave the bus she had boarded because it was due to leave and the driver would not accept her money. I saw old ladies almost flung to the ground as buses pulled away as they were finding a seat. I had arguments. I was told the wrong information. I was told no information.
All in a few hours riding around on the buses in Bristol and as much as the former Avon area I could manage in a morning.
And certainly not for fun, but for the purposes of serious journalistic research into the Avon Rider, a new bus ticket launched this month that for the price of £7.20 enables unlimited travel for a day on 12 different bus operators.
My Wednesday on the buses started with the 10.00 number 9 from Clifton Village to Broadmead. While waiting for the bus to arrive, a table tennis ball zinged past my nose from one of the remaining Ping tables, in place presumably until the new Kings Court development is begun.
Here is my first bus of the day:
Unfortunately, when I asked for an Avon Rider, the Polish bus driver didn’t understand what I was saying to him, so despite my protestations that the ticket did exist, he sold me a £4 zones one and two off-peak ticket. After I gave up, he tried to make one girl get off the bus she had just got on and wait 10 minutes. There followed a cheery hello to us all from Big Issue Jeff on the Triangle, before I got off outside Primark.
I walked to the bus station and found this office:
I thought it would be relatively straightforward to upgrade my £4 ticket for the Avon Rider. Instead, I was told that it was impossible and pointed in the direction of a man in a luminous yellow jacket.
Explaining my predicament, he walked straight past me into another office. “Can’t do it at the moment mate.” So when can you do it? “Five minutes.”
He was true to his word and came out after five minutes, thrusting a travel claim form into my hand. “They should have given you that,” he told me, once again not even breaking stride.
I dread to think what the international students arriving at the welcome desk operated by volunteer UWE undergraduates must think when coming to Bristol for the first time. Although to be fair to First, the Bolivian bus service is worse than even them.
The 379 to Radstock was the next service scheduled to leave the bus station. But it didn’t turn up. So joy of joys I got to ride the pride of the First fleet, the X1:
After more than one older passenger customer tried and failed to use the new swipe card system, I asked the driver for an Avon Rider. “Haven’t got a clue where it is mate,” he said, but gamely persevered and after pressing a few buttons the correct ticket appeared and I headed to the top deck.
“Ooh, this is a posh bus innit,” I overheard an old lady say to her friend. “The seats are like armchairs. Aren’t they lovely.”
One of our first stops was Anchor Road, at a stop that was briefly decorated to look like the ss Great Britain, complete with funnels. I think the idea was finding them all, gorilla-style, for the prize of a free return ticket on a First bus of your choice. I would have definitely chosen the X1.
Choosing to alight at Backwell, I walked past Aimee’s Wine House. It was a longer walk to the New Inn than I thought, but I found a large stone and well in a park as an unexpected bonus, and was happy as a sandboy when I found the new editions of Pints West, Crumbs and Clifton Life in the pub, enjoyed over a cappuccino.
At the 352 and 353 stop on West Lane, I saw a woman waiting, usually a good sign. But no timetable meant no clue for either of us. We could have waited for days as big lorries trundled past on the main road.
Eventually, at 12.03, the 352 appeared:
My stop this time was in Hotwells near the Rose of Denmark. After a brief detour up Hope Chapel Hill on foot to retrieve my phone charger, I caught the number 8 back to the centre, before just missing a 902 Portway park and ride, instead jumping on the 25 to Bedminster, watching the chuggers go about their thankless tasks as I waited.
The driver looked at my ticket a bit strangely, but he accepted it. After passing Asda, along St John’s Road, and a 180-degree turn around the back of East Street, I got off opposite the Masonic on North Street.
“Not being racist or anything, but she’s that colour and looks like a boy,” said a young man swinging from the bus stop on East Street next to Wilkinson.
Excitingly, it was now time to catch a bus that was not operated by First, holders of a virtual monopoly on services in Bristol. Here is the number 52, operated by Abus, which has just one service an hour:
I showed the driver my Avon Rider. “No,” he told me in no uncertain terms, not even looking up from his steering wheel. “You pay 50p.”
After I explained politely, he did accept the ticket, and then proceeded to go straight through an orange light turning red on Bedminster Bridge roundabout.
It was an ignominious but not entirely unexpected end to my day having fun on the buses with an Avon Rider.